'Sesame Seeds' - nudge unit bids for $100m grant to develop programme for children in Syria

The Government's Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) has teamed up with Sesame Street and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to develop a programme for millions of children in war-torn Syria.

Grover the Sesame Street muppet meets a refugee child in Jordan
Grover the Sesame Street muppet meets a refugee child in Jordan

The popularity of the puppets from the long-running US TV series will be exploited in a ‘Sesame Seeds’ project aimed at reaching Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as those children displaced inside Syria.

It will include a new version of Sesame Street, in Arabic, as well as a care-giving program delivered through home visits and mobile messages, and educational content for teachers.

The early childhood development program is in the running for a US$100 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which is offering funding for "a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time".

It has been selected as one of eight semi-finalists from more than 1,900 applicants for the funding.

In an email last week announcing its involvement in the project, the BIT, known as the "nudge unit", which is part owned by the Cabinet Office, stated: "Without access to consistent, high-quality education and nurturing care, these children risk becoming part of a generation engulfed by conflict and crisis, the ramifications of which will be felt for many years to come."

It added: "The complexity and scale of the Syrian refugee crisis and its deleterious impacts on millions of children demands an ambitious solution."

The nudge unit stated that it will bring "expertise on human behaviour, decision-making, and rapid, rigorous evaluation and testing to the partnership".

Creating "cutting-edge content" alone will not work, unless the programs are "deployed using cost-effective strategies, including digital platforms, in order to reach the greatest number of affected children and families".

It commented: "We must also ensure that materials are delivered in ways that are appealing and easy to understand, so that end users engage with them and, as a result, can better support children as they learn."

BIT's role in the project is to develop ways of ensuring that the materials being developed will be adopted by the adults involved in the lives of the children being targeted.

It will take a "human-centered approach to understanding people’s motivations and create dissemination strategies that respond to these context-specific behaviors."

BIT described the project as an "opportunity to positively impact an entire generation of Syrian refugee children".

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